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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 22, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 166
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
'Come on in, the water's fine' seems to be the word from this whale.
My new friends are called Moby and Mr. Hand
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The sea was calm and silent. And then it appeared out of nowhere. A mountain of gray and white emerged from the sea, rolled and crashed down, lifting buckets of water into the air. 

That’s not a line from "Moby Dick." This whale was a humpback and a new friend. 

That’s how I got up close and personal with a pod of humpbacks in Drake Bay off the Osa Peninsula. The whale-watching crew, a trio of tourists, and I rose with the sun early last Thursday morning and loaded the boat with the day’s supplies. We were under the direction of Sierra Sequeira, owner of Delphín Amor Eco-lodge and Education Center.
related story

Before we launched, Sierra began the tour with a warning: "Remember that nobody can predict the behavior of animals." A silence fell over the group. "Great," I thought to myself as the boat cut through the waves. "That means we’re not going to see jack."

Perched on the bow of the boat, Sierra acted as our lookout, relying on her instinct and knowledge of the animals instead of radar. As the boat thrust out to sea, I scanned the waves systematically, moving my head from right to left as if I were the spectator of an extremely slow tennis match.

After traveling 20 minutes, the boat came to a sudden halt. We came upon a lone humpback that was taking a leisurely swim. We watched as the whale came up every four minutes, like clockwork, each time taking three inhalations before disappearing into the water. The marine biologist on board said the whales can remain underwater for as long as an hour before coming up for air.

We headed out towards Caño Island and soon encountered a pair of humpbacks. Circling our boat, they kept us dizzy for awhile as we tried to anticipate where they would come up next.

Photo by Sierra Sequeira
This is a whale of a jump
Photo by Sierra Sequeira
Distinctive mark on this whale's tail identifies him as 'Mr. Hand.'

Occasionally, they would gracefully display their crescent moon-shaped tails before making a deep dive. The marine biologist pointed out a distinct marking on the underside of one of the humpback’s tails that looked like a right-hand print. And thereafter, the humpback was known as Mr. Hand.

As we ate our lunch, the humpbacks took off into the direction of where we had our original sighting. Busy with our sandwiches, we heard a splash in the distance. "BREACH!," Sierra screamed, alerting everyone to a whale lifting its body completely out of the water.

We raced over to the site and there they were four humpbacks together acting rambunctiously. A couple of brave bottlenose dolphins were also in the mix. The whales performed a variety of acrobatics.

They were slapping their tails and flippers against the waves, raising their tails out of the water, and thrashing their massive bodies around wildly. Once in a while, a humpback would marvel us all with another rolling jump.

The marine biologist, Roy Sancho, said he believed that it was a mating ritual, three males fighting for the attention of one female.

Sierra lowered what looked like a microphone into the water. It was a hydrophone, an instrument used to tune into the humpback songs. We heard a chorus of shrills and groans. It sounded to me like someone was pinching the end of a deflating balloon.

We watched this spectacle until it subsided. The sun was hot, so we decided to take a dip. We were paddling around the boat and then the four humpbacks came back for an encore. 

There I was, smack dab in the middle of a Discovery Channel episode, swimming with my new friends and enjoying the view. They passed just below. My main concern was to avoid being "tailed" by the gigantic mammal. 

But they seemed to pay no heed to the tiny white body in the water.

Dengue finally arrives in the Central Valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dengue, the mosquito-born illness that can kill in some forms is a threat to Central Valley residents.

Doctors reported three dozen cases in Alajuela over the weekend, and more cases have turned up in La Uruca and La Carpio.

More than 3,100 cases of dengue have been reported in Costa Rica in 2002, according to the Ministerio de Salud. But the disease usually is found along the coasts. Recent rains seem to have provided a boost to the mosquito population which needs standing water in which to lay eggs.

Health officials have started an emergency spraying program to kill the mosquitoes, and they are urging residents to check for 

standing water and humid conditions in which the creatures breed.

Symptoms include a high fever and severe dehydration. The most serious victims of dengue become dehydrated, with uncontrollable temperatures and hemorrhaging. One case of the sometimes fatal hemorrhagic dengue has been reported on the Atlantic coast, said health officials. More are suspected in the Central Valley.

International health officials have been warning about dengue since May when an outbreak sickened up to 2,000 persons in El Salvador. They said then that the disease seemed to be moving south.

The best protection is tight screens, bug repellant in the evenings and the elimination of nearby breeding areas.

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Shrimp boat is among those getting blamed by the foundation for damaging the ecosystem of the bay

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Drake Bay backers pushing for sanctuary status
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s biggest tourists weigh in at about 30 tons and measure up to 50 feet long. They’re the humpback whales that swam here from the southern Pacific Ocean to spend winter in Drake Bay.

Some are believed to have made a 4,500-mile trek from Antarctica. That’s the longest known migration of any mammal.

Drake Bay, located on Osa Peninsula off the southern Pacific coast, is the birthing and breeding grounds for migrating humpbacks from the Northern and Southern hemispheres. These enormous creatures make the long sojourn every year to the area in June and stay until November.

The lives of the humpbacks and other marine life are being endangered by the irresponsible practices of commercial fishermen in the bay, said Sierra Sequeira, president of the Fundación Delfín de Costa Rica.  The non-profit foundation is at odds with the shrimpers, tuna fisherman, and long liners.
People are aware that the land within Costa Rican borders is the most ecologically diverse in the world. What is often overlooked is the fact that the ecosystem of the country’s coastal waters is equally impressive.

A look through the lens of a snorkel mask reveals a hidden world that exists beneath the surface of the sea that’s brimming with activity. 

Sierra and friend

The warm and blue water off the coast of Drake Bay is home to a myriad of marine life. The bay supports an exhaustive list of aquatic species, including brightly colored tropical fish, sea turtles, tuna, marlin, manta rays and more. Over 25 species of whales and dolphins have been found in the area, according to Ms. Sequeira.

Drake Bay yields dense concentration of marine life because it's located in the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, a shallow layer of warm water that lies on top of low-oxygen, cold water, according to biologists. This creates the perfect ecosystem where marine life thrives. 

Well, almost perfect, that is. The bay is full of predators, much more dangerous than any shark. According to the foundation, the commercial fishermen are the real killers.

Nobody knows of the ill effects of the fishermen’s practices in Drake Bay better than Ms. Sequeira. In addition to being the president of the Foundacíon Delphin, she owns Delfîn Amor, a tour group that offers week-long whale and dolphin tours, giving participants an opportunity to observe and even swim with the mammals.

For the past four years Ms. Sequeira and her staff have been giving tours on an almost daily basis. Throughout this time they have witnessed first-hand the sea turtles caught in long lines, injured dolphins and whales, and trash from commercial fishing boats.

The area’s rich ecosystem is threatened by shrimpers who troll the bottom of the sea with nets that uproot everything that lives there, then, toss out unwanted marine life, leaving it floating dead in their wake, she said.

And she blames long-liners who drag 2 to 3 kilometers of fishing line baited with hooks every few feet. Many sea turtles and dolphins get tangled up, cut by its hooks, and even die, according to the Delfín Amor staff.

The Fundación Delfín is taking measures to tackle this whale of a problem head-on.

The main goal of the foundation is to have Drake Bay named as a national marine sanctuary, protected by the Costa Rican government. The group is currently working with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a group that has helped establish marine sanctuaries in other parts of the world.

In their "dream sanctuary," commercial fishing in Drake Bay would be limited to areas more than 

Photo by Sierra Sequeira
A giant leap for whalekind

200 miles offshore. This would keep the dolphins and whales out of harm’s way and also benefit local fishermen.

Knowing full well that the commerical fishing industry will fight such a restriction, the foundation is building a case for a smaller area (about 50 miles from shore) to start with, in hopes of extending it out further at a later date.

Fundación Delphín conducts research and collects data on the whales and dolphin in the area. Their on-staff marine biologists accompany the commercial tours in order to collect and to record data, which includes location, whale and dolphin behavior, weather, water temperature and moon position.

The foundation has already collected two years of data, which it is compiling into reports for the Costa Rican government.

Pictures are taken of the whales’ tails as they rise out of the water. The photos, called ID shots, allow the group to identify and distinguish between the humpbacks that populate the area. Since no two tails are alike, like a human fingerprint, they can be used to track the humpbacks that inhabit the bay.

This data is essential in showing the government officials that Drake Bay has the potential to become a successful tourist attraction in the future. "We need to prove that our diverse eco-system is worth saving," said Roy Sancho, a marine-biologist, who has been observing the humpbacks since November 1999.

The foundation officials remain hopeful that they can prove the economic potential of the project. The newly green-minded Abel Pachecho administration has already warmly received the foundation’s initial proposal, according to Ms. Sequeira.

At the Eco-Expo meeting last month, Rubin Pacheco, minister of Turismo, showed a lot of interest in the initial plans to make Drake Bay into a marine sanctuary, Ms. Sequeira said. Foundation officials hope to file for marine sanctuary status by the end of this year.

The marine sanctuary jibes well with the country’s eco-tourism movement. "The whales and dolphin have brought a lot of people to Costa Rica who would have never come," said Ms. Sequeira.

Jim Shannon recently traveled from Knoxville, Tenn., to take part in a tour. Shannon found out about Delphín Amor while researching dolphin swims on the Internet. He picked Costa Rica, over a slew of other destinations, because it allowed him to visit the rain forest as well.

He also liked the fact that interaction with the animals was made in their own environment.  "It beats any aquarium," Shannon said of the tour.

Delphín Amor takes great care to make sure not to alter the natural habitat of the marine animals they observe, said employees. When out on tour, the staff observes the gentle guidelines of interaction, such as keeping a respectful distance initially in order to gauge the animal’s disposition. "You shouldn’t change the animal’s behavior by what you’re doing," said Jane England, a long-time volunteer.

Ms. Sequeira attests that the bond between dolphins/whales and humans, when done correctly, is beneficial to both parties. Most marine biologists consider it harmful to the animals. 

"The whales and the dolphins invite these interactions, and if they are done with knowledgeable people on board, and it is done with respect, it is an incredible experience for the people and the dolphins and whales," said Ms. Sequeira. "I've seen this experience change the lives of many people, including me."

Road officials hope the Los Anonos bridge is finished by Christmas
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Minister Javier Chavez Bolaños meets the press along with Jose Chacón, national road chief, and Vice Minister Maria Lorena López. Bridge is in background.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Los Anonos bridge might date from before World War II, but the job workmen will complete by Christmas will give it a new lease on life.

Javier Chaves Bolaños, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, explained Wednesday that the $472,000 job on the bridge will retain the existing structure, some 350 feet of it. 

Workmen will clean, inspect and reinforce the metal  frame and coat exposed metal parts with an asphalt-based protective paint.  The main idea is to widen the span from one lane to two lanes, one in each direction.

The minister met with reporters Wednesday morning at the west end of the bridge to explain the work. Chaves said he expected the work to be done Dec. 15 in time for the Christmas season. The bridge is important because it is one of the two major connections between Escazú and points east.

The bridge will be closed while the work goes on, and ministry officials recommend the carretera Próspero Fernández.  At least three Escazú and Los Anonos bus companies will be changing their routes in light of the closed bridge.

SURPRISE: Competition seems to be building in Internet field
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is going into competition with itself.

And the company, the government telecommunications monopoly, also wants to take a shot at internet cafes by constructing a chain of free-standing computer kiosks.

That’s the word from industry and company sources who were holding an exposition of telephone and Internet technology Wednesday at the Hotel Herradura Conference Center.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Madeieyne Mendivil, a San José model working at the communications exposition, provides a degree of scale to the Ascom Internet kiosk machine that might be offered for sale to the government here.
Since 1994 Radiográfica Costarricense, S.A.,  has been the principal supplier of Internet services. 

But the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is now converting many of the telephone lines in San José to fiber optic, a line that can carry much more traffic. The company is testing what it called "Advanced Internet," a system a thousand times faster than current connections. The company has a pilot project with some 350 digital connections now in San Pedro, San José, Pavas, Tibás and Escazú.

Both companies, along with the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, S.A. are members of the Grupo ICE, but ICE  doesn’t have plans to share the advanced Internet with RACSA.

So what happens two years down the road when the advanced Internet no longer is advanced but just normal? That’s a question RACSA employees duck, but it is clear that RACSA could retain control of the household Internet connection while ICE becomes more and move involved with lucrative businesses and high speed Internet connections. But anyone who wants a really fast Internet connection would have to deal with ICE.

In addition, ICE is expected to seek next year bids for supplying free-standing computer terminals of a type now used in Europe. The terminals can be set up in public places in the same way pay telephones are now.

One specially reinforced kiosk machine was on display Wednesday by Ascom, the European manufacturer.   The device has a flat screen and a metal keyboard with metal keys that seem to resist casual damage.

At $7,000 apiece the machines are not cheap. ICE will distribute such devices where the traffic demands Internet access, such as stores and shopping malls. The service would compete directly with the privately owned Internet cafes.

The show was sponsored by Grupo ICE, and called COSCOM 2002. It runs through Friday. 

Also on display are telecommunication products by many international firms, including Buck Rogers-type cellular telephones. Entrance is free.

Caribbean slope hit
again with heavy rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Caribbean area is getting hit again with strong rains and flooding.  Just last week, the area had three days of rain and experienced damage to roadways and bridges.

Heavy rains hit the area Wednesday night, and there were reports that rivers broke out of their banks. Some homes were reported damaged in Pacuarito by the Pacuare River, said police, and Matina was experiencing flooding as it did last week.

The downpour would not have filled the rivers so quickly except that the ground still is soaked from rains last week, over the weekend and Tuesday. So the downpour ran off with extra vigor.

San José also was hit with downpours Tuesday and Wednesday, but the quantities were modest compared to what hit the Caribbean coast.

Jury convicts neighbor
in murder of girl, 7

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A California jury has convicted 50-year-old engineer David Westerfield of kidnapping and killing his 7-year-old neighbor, Danielle van Dam. 

The jury returned its guilty verdict Wednesday after deliberating for 10 days. Danielle's parents sobbed as the verdict was read while a large crowd outside the San Diego courtroom cheered. 

Westerfield was also convicted of possessing child pornography.  Prosecutors will seek the death penalty when the sentencing phase of the trial opens next week. 

Danielle van Dam disappeared last February shortly after her father put her to bed. Police found her naked and badly decomposed body along a road one month later. 

Westerfield is the first suspect convicted in a string of several widely-publicized disappearances of young girls this year. 

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Colombian cocaine purity is declining
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says that the purity levels of Colombian cocaine are declining, a trend the agency calls a "step in the right direction" in reducing the potency of the drug.

The narcotics agency said in a statement that the purity level has declined by about 9 percent — from 86 percent in 1998, to 77.7 percent in 2001. The purity level in 2000 was 82 percent, and 84 percent in 1999. Purity level refers to the percentage of cocaine that has not been diluted by drug traffickers, drug enforcement officials said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the decline could have at least three causes. One possible cause, it said, is a program called Operation Purple, which is thought to be affecting the quality of cocaine base in the Andean region.

The operation targets the illegal diversion of chemicals used in processing cocaine and other illicit drugs. Operation Purple, which involves 28 countries, restricts the supply of a key chemical called potassium permanganate, commonly used in the clandestine manufacture of cocaine.

The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board has called Operation Purple a major success in preventing drug traffickers from obtaining permanganate.

A second possible cause in declining purity levels is that traffickers are diluting their cocaine to offset the higher costs associated with payoffs to insurgent and paramilitary groups in Colombia.

A third possible cause is that cocaine traffickers 

do not have the product to simultaneously satisfy both their markets in the United States and their rapidly growing market in Europe. As a result, they are cutting the product to try to satisfy both.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said that whatever the causes, the street price of pure cocaine is rising in the United States. Cocaine abusers still pay roughly the $100-per-gram price that has been standard for the last several years, but they are getting less pure cocaine for it.

Most cocaine buyers might not notice the decline in purity levels, particularly those who use crack cocaine, the Drug Enforcement Administration said. Some might compensate for the lower purity levels by buying more cocaine. A few might decide that maintaining their habit is no longer worth the money they spend on cocaine, said the agency.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said that a 9 percent decline in purity levels may not signal a revolution in the cocaine market, but it is "certainly a step in the right direction."

The U.S. State Department says Colombia is the world's leading producer of cocaine, with 90 percent of the world's supply produced, processed, or transported through the country.

The Department says U.S. support for Colombia is designed to attack every element of the illicit drug trade and to help re-establish Colombian government control and the rule of law in areas threatened by drug-related violence. Current U.S. programs in Colombia, the department said, build upon efforts that were already underway in that country and on experience gained from Peru and Bolivia, which have experienced their own problems with illicit drug production.

Former Argentine president questioned

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A judge here has ordered former President Carlos Menem to appear in court to answer questions regarding his alleged $600,000 Swiss bank account. 

Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide Wednesday ordered Menem to appear in court Sept. 23 as part of an investigation into the former president's finances. 

Menem, who governed Argentina from 1989 to 1999, and plans to run for president in 2003, had initially denied having any Swiss accounts, but later admitted to the charge. The 72-year-old former president may also have to answer to allegations made last month that he was paid by Iran to help cover up any alleged Iranian link to a bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994. 

Menem has denied the allegation. 

Argentine officials have also accused Menem of having led a small group of government officials who illegally diverted weapons to Croatia and Ecuador, both of which were subject to U.N. embargoes. 

Menem was placed under house arrest 13 months ago, but was released in November after Argentina's Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove a conspiracy case against him.

World Bank calls for 
policy changes

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Development progress may be reversed by a lack of good policies and institutions in developing countries, the World Bank says.

In a press release announcing its World Development Report 2003, the bank says new development alliances are needed at the local, national and global levels to advance development. It calls for rich countries to provide more resources to poor countries, open their markets further to developing countries exports and cut poor countries' debt.

It says developing countries must become more transparent and accountable and ensure that poor people can buy land and obtain education and health care.

In the release the bank asks government and private sector representatives to the World Summit on Sustainable Development meeting Aug. 26 to Sept. 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa, to agree on steps that can be taken now "to ensure that poverty-reducing growth does not come at great cost to future generations."

The bank report says achieving sustainable development will require substantial income and productivity growth in poor countries. Better management of the social, economic and environmental changes these countries experience as they become more urban will also be needed, it adds.

The report says poor people should have more say in the development of policies that affect them.

"The world must act to help its poorest people manage their own resources and build their productivity and incomes now, to empower these communities and help them prepare for the demands of the decades ahead," Nicholas Stern, World Bank chief economist, says in the release.

The United States imported $449,000 million in goods and services from developing countries in 2001, according to a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development. That report also said the United States contributed $11,000 million in official development assistance and $2,500 million in humanitarian assistance and food aid for the developing world in 2001.

Drug agents raid 
four spots seeking crack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents raided four locations Tuesday and Tuesday night to put a crimp in crack cocaine trafficking in San José.

Agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization first took into custody a man with the last name of Alvarez, age 40, in Escazú where he had a cocaine sales route hitting the local bars and hotels, they said.

Police detained three persons in San Juan de Dios de Desamparados, identified as Valverde, 47, Romero, 25, and Sáenz, 37. Agents also said they confiscated more than 1,000 rocks of crack cocaine, marijuana and 60,000 colons in marked bills, about $164.

In Concepción de Alajuelita, two men named Chinchilla, 27, and More, 25, faced arrest. Some 200 crack rocks, marijuana and cocaine were confiscated.

In the last raid in Calle Blancos, agents arrested a 47-year-old woman with the last name of Bolaños at her house. There agents said they confiscated 79 crack rocks, marijuana and more marked money.

The arrests were the result of surveillance, said agents.


U.S. says grain sent
to aid Africa is safe

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department has called on southern African governments to distribute to the millions of people in the region in danger of starving the U.S. grain they are receiving in aid shipments, saying concern about the safety of agricultural biotechnology is based on "misinformation."

The delivery of some 100,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid has been delayed, said Philip Reeker, deputy spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday, even though the food is "the same as that eaten by millions of Americans daily" and is "both safe and wholesome." The food, Reeker added, "can make the difference between life and death for millions of southern Africa's poorest people."

The United States will give nearly a half million tons of food to the southern Africa region by the end of this year — half the total food aid the U.N. World Food Program says is required to meet emergency needs in the region.

New info on Argentina’s
'dirty war' surfaces

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Thousands of documents released by the U.S. government are shedding new light on Argentina's “dirty war” against suspected leftists in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The declassified documents, made public Tuesday, provide information on the systematic kidnapping, torture and killings under the military dictatorship of Leopoldo Galtieri, former Argentine president. Galtieri was arrested last month on kidnapping charges. 

Then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pledged to release the documents when she visited Buenos Aires in 2000. 

The U.S. National Security Archive, an independent academic organization, says the documents include an organizational chart of the death squad unit, Battalion 601, with an explicit chain of command leading to Galtieri.

Carlos Osorio, the organization's director, says the documents are a clear contribution to families seeking information about their missing relatives and to judges seeking to make the military accountable for past abuses.

An official investigation concluded that 9,000 people were killed or disappeared during the military's rule and were never heard from again.

The New York Times reports the documents may also help several hundred Argentines who were kidnapped, some at birth, to identify their parents. Many were adopted by military officers after their parents were killed.

Jordan's telecom
system freed up

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has granted Jordan $417,252 to fund a U.S. technical assistance team to assist the Jordanian government in planning for the liberalization of the country's fixed line telecommunications system, the agency said in a press release Tuesday.

Liberalization of fixed-line telecommunications services was a major commitment made by Jordan in joining the World Trade Organization and in its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, the press release said.

Satellite conference
will be held in Miami

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A conference targeted at all users in the Americas of satellite data collected by the United States will be held Dec. 9 to 13 in Miami, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced.

The agency said that during the next several years, the satellite system operated by the administration will undergo significant changes and technological improvements. The purpose of the conference is to begin preparing all users for these upcoming changes, said agency officials.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the changes will affect all current and future users of the agency's satellites, particularly those who receive data directly from the satellites. In the near future, all users will have to modify or replace current receiving equipment and basic processing software as the next generations of satellites begin operation.

Data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites — specifically, the polar operational environmental satellite and the geostationary orbiting environmental satellites — is available to all countries and users throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The data is being used to support a variety of meteorological, oceanographic, terrestrial, solar, climate, and other specialized information collection activities and services, the agency said.

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